President Barack Obama endured intense scrutiny in the media and on Capitol Hill this week. Many were unhappy about his compromise with Republicans on the hotly-debated tax cuts and unemployment benefits.
Monday’s agreement centered on a two-year temporary extension of tax cuts at all income levels, a proposal widely supported by the GOP. Payroll taxes will also be cut by two percent through the end of 2011. In return for their favored tax cuts, GOP leaders agreed to a 13-month extension of federal unemployment benefits to help struggling American families pay their bills.
The president announced his deal with Republicans in a televised speech on Monday evening. As word spread of the deal ahead of the announcement, Democrats began fuming both privately and publicly. They wanted more compromise from the president on tax cuts. They felt he should not have been so willing to compromise with Republicans on the issue in a time of rising national debt.
The Commander-In-Chief struck back against the critics in a press conference from the White House Briefing Room on Tuesday afternoon. He explained in clearer terms exactly why he compromised with Republicans about tax cuts. The cornerstone of his argument was that unemployed Americans needed the benefit extension to meet their basic needs while they look for work.
“Because of this agreement, [two] million Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work will be able to pay their rent and put food on their table,” the president said.
“And in exchange for a temporary extension of the high-income tax breaks — not a permanent but a temporary extension — a policy that I opposed but that Republicans are unwilling to budge on, this agreement preserves additional tax cuts for the middle class that I fought for and that Republicans opposed two years ago,” Obama explained to reporters at the White House.
Among the firestorm of criticism, several prominent Democrats stepped forward in support of the president’s action. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a former presidential candidate and opponent of the Bush tax cuts, weighed in on President Obama’s compromise with Republicans. Kerry explained the complexities of the president’s decision.
“I think the President had a hard decision to make,” Sen. Kerry remarked. “He obviously decided that the best possible compromise was to get unemployment benefits, middle class tax cuts, and the Recovery Act provisions extended in exchange for these upper income tax extensions that he opposes, and he decided that in two years the fight over tax breaks for the wealthy will be rejoined,” Kerry added.
The Massachusetts senator was not the only supporter of the president’s plan. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.), the Governors-elect of Rhode Island and New York, and the Mayors of Philadelphia, San Antonio, and St. Louis, among a litany of others, all released written statements in favor of the actions that President Obama took. Many explained how the unemployment benefits would help struggling families in their states while keeping the tax cuts temporary.
Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote a recent article in The Hill in which he demonstrated his support of the President. “In the face of Republicans’ intransigence,” he said, “President Obama did the only thing a responsible leader could do: He opened negotiations. In his discussions with Congressional Republicans, the president stood by his core principles and fought hard for his position. He refused to accept any agreement that raised taxes on middle-class Americans or cut unemployed Americans off from critical aid. Indeed, the president demanded significant concessions from Republicans for his approval of any deal.”
The next step for approval is a vote in Congress on the terms of the agreement. The president and his team are working hard to gain support for the package on both sides of the aisle.